15 October 1999

Wind of change could warm Martian climate

METHANE-PRODUCING bugs, found in cows stomachs, could hold the key to supporting human life on Mars, according to research reported in the Sunday Times.

Methanogens – species of bacteria found in the rumen – hate oxygen and researchers believe they will thrive in the freezing environment of Mars.

Scientists led by Tim Kral of Arkansas University created a mini Martian environment in a test tube using soil and carbon dioxide for the gases on Mars, and chose methanogens because they can grow in extreme conditions.

"These bacteria can exist on carbon dioxide as an energy source, plus a few trace metals such as iron, magnesium and calcium."

Methanogens also produce the greenhouse gas, methane in the rumen, explains Prof Kral.

"If someday we wanted to produce an Earth-like environment on Mars, methanogens could be used because if methane got into Marss atmosphere it may warm it up."